A LIFE LESS BEAUTIFUL , India Poised

A LIFE LESS BEAUTIFUL

At the same time, we can ill-afford to turn a blind eye to the grim reality that lies beneath the glitter and gloss of an India poised for glory and greatness. Some of us would like to believe the twain shall never meet, that we can continue to live our parallel lives without ever having to confront the other, less shiny India—the India that is routinely devastated by floods, droughts and terrorism. But the serial blasts in the first-class compartments of Mumbai’s suburban trains have served as a terrible reminder that life is not as neatly compartmentalised as we might like it to be.

We can also either choose to dismiss the recent display of Dalit fury as a random, isolated incident, or treat it as a symptom of a greater problem. There is enough evidence to suggest that communal and social ferment can set a country back.

Another big source of worry is the collapse of governance and the erosion of our institutions. Corruption is at a high, faith in the ability and inclination of our politicians and bureaucrats to run an efficient, honest and just administration is at a low. The months-long crisis over illegal constructions and sealings in Delhi is but a case in point. The judiciary has had to fill the breach on almost every major issue of the day, largely because the executive and the legislature have abdicated their responsibilities. Not that the judiciary doesn’t have its own problems; the pile-up of cases and the time taken to dispose of even petty disputes makes for depressing reading.

As a paper, we have advocated that government’s role in business should be minimal. We have favoured disinvestment, opposed over-regulation. We have said that instead of running businesses, government should channel its time and money into ensuring efficient delivery of education, healthcare and infrastructure. Sadly, that has not happened.

Our state-run schools and hospitals are in a shambles, and infrastructure has become a bottleneck. The well-heeled—who constitute TOI’s readership—can afford private schools and hospitals, and we can gloat about foreigners flocking to India for everything from botox to heart transplants, and about Indian educational institutes setting up campuses abroad. But vast swathes of our population do not have access to the most basic needs (and rights)—civic amenities and a decent education. Quite apart from the fact that it’s the right thing to do, even selfishly, it’s good for the economy, especially if we are to work our billion-plus population to our advantage.

As it is, we are seeing the beginnings of a big talent crunch. As the role of intangible assets—skilled workforce and intellectual capital—grows in the economy, so will the demand for trained manpower. In a world where talent’s become the most sought-after asset—a big venture capitalist recently told us, “money’s at a discount, talent’s at a premium’’—India was seen as an inexhaustible source of both high and low-end labour. But the inside story is somewhat different. There’s a desperate stampede for skilled people. It’s great news for employees, but the fear is that the looming talent deficit could act as an impediment to growth. Hole-in-the-wall teaching centres are mushrooming to cash in on the soaring demand for professional degrees and diplomas, but the quality of education is, for the most part, abysmal. Government and the private sector need to figure out ways to fix as well as expand our education system. And please, let’s cut out the anti-English rhetoric. It’s our English language education, together with institutes such as the IITs and IIMs, that has helped give us a global competitive advantage. Let’s not allow any short-sighted, self-righteous politician to blow it.

THE RISE OF CIVIL SOCIETY

Increasingly, there’s a sense that India’s ticking in spite of its babus and political leaders. Indeed, the role of public opinion in bringing Jessica Lall’s killer to justice holds out hope that civil society can make an enormous difference when it chooses to. Also, we now have a powerful instrument in the form of RTI (Right to Information); we need to leverage it to the fullest (even as we try to protect it from babudom’s attempts to dilute it).

Starting today and continuing through the month, The Times of India will seek to highlight areas of hope and despair. We will bring you the big picture, as well as reports from the street and field on inspiring stories of men and women who have looked adversity in the eye and made the world around us a better place. Along the way, we hope that with your feedback we can put together a few transformational ideas and solutions for an India whose only real obstacle to progress is itself.

It is a matter of great pride that India has produced such people as Amartya Sen, Indra Nooyi and Zubin Mehta. But deep down, we know that we haven’t tapped even a fraction of our potential. It will be the modest endeavour of this paper to help realise that potential.

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